Well, all things being equal, the trip up to the Renaissance Festival wasn’t a total loss. This in spite of the fact that everyone–and I mean everyone, that jumped up and down and exclaimed how much they really wanted to go with me to the Faire totally bailed on me, and that I couldn’t find a single one of the Mary Wash fencing crowd (nor could I reach them by cell phone), and the awful traffic and long drive to get there.
It was as packed as I’ve ever seen it, with long lines and people everywhere. So, there I was, ironically alone in a sea of thousands.
But, as stated, though disappointed at not being able to share the experience with friends known to me, all was not lost. There were still the standout acts that I enjoyed, such as the Pyrates Royale, of course, and Puke & Snot, et al.
The variety of human expression in dress and paint was, as always, arresting (not that I’ve gotten arrested–I’m much too careful for that 🙂 ).
I found a waster I wanted to try at the Hollow Earth booth. Having been playing with both the longsword and rapier, I’ve been toying with the idea of finding a good side sword, and learning technique with it.
I was wondering how each of the sword forms and their techniques would inform the transitionary weapon, the side sword, also known by some as a “cut & thrust sword” (the girl at the booth, for instance). From my understanding, the side sword was a direct descendent of the arming sword, and developed into more and more rapier-like forms. When rapiers were finally the weapon of choice throughout much of Europe, the side sword remained in parallel development. Whilst the rapier was considered almost exclusively as a civilian weapon, for self-defense but especially for dueling, the side sword was still considered militarized, but was also carried for civilian dueling and defense.
Sort of like how there are civilian handguns developed primarily for concealed carry, whereas some folks are just fine with a Colt 1911A1 as a carry weapon. The Colt is the famous “.45 Auto” that people refer to, and was developed as a military sidearm (“side arm”… “side sword”… “arming sword” 😉 ).
Like the sabre, the side sword is primarily a one-handed weapon; it is more or less equally at home with both cutting and thrusting attacks (hence the nickname). The sabre, though also a cut and thrust bladed weapon, actually comes from a different lineage. I’ve enjoyed fencing sporting sabre for years, incidentally. I’d like to find a good sabre waster, but I haven’t really seen one.
In any case, just a little bit of play with the side sword now that I’m back home has already enlightened me on some things. The feel and the balance, and how threading the finger over the guard changes the mechanics of how your hand and arm moves, for instance, and how that shapes the guards you take.
In longsword, parrying is done almost exclusively with the flat of the blade, with the thumb pressing against the flat opposite the side taking the blow. (This is more easily shown than told, it makes more sense when you see it, or try it.)
In rapier (and in sport fencing with all three weapons), however, parrying is done almost exclusively with the edge of the blade. How this developed has to do with the mechanics of leverage.
When using one hand, keeping a “natural” position on the hilt with the finger through over the cross leaves little flexibility with hand position–to be stronger, you end up parrying most of the time by necessity with your knuckles towards the pressure of the opposing blade. Which happens to be where your edge is on a rapier.
The use of two hands on the longsword allows you change your grip more, so that the thumb is supporting the flat of the blade and the knuckles are still facing to the opposing blade’s pressure.
There are other factors as well, that contribute to flat-or-edge parry usages, such as the rapier blade is longer and thinner and typically not as stiff as a longsword blade, so again you have more strength along the edge to parry.
The side sword, however, you have a wide, stiff but light blade, that allows you to parry with the flat, and the option to thread your index finger over the guard–or not, as it suits you. For some actions, such as when you want delicate tip work, it may be preferable to thread the finger over, and manipulate the sword nearly as a rapier.
For other actions it may be more suitable to keep all fingers on the hilt in a hammer grip and cut that way.
Anyway, those are just some examples–and I have to admit, as a martial arts geek, I’m fascinated. Here’s a picture from the Hollow Earth website of the class of side sword wasters like mine (the middle one is most like). Mine is pretty, though I still feel the hilt may be a bit small, especially if I have gloves on. But at least I got to try it out before I bought it. That’s one of the nice things about going to a Faire, as opposed to just getting something off the web.
Well, as much as I like my waster, I may be done with the whole Ren Faire thing for a while. Time for my next adventure.
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